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     Volume 9 Issue 13| March 26, 2010|

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Current Affairs

The Chinese Connexion

The Prime Minister's visit to China, which has come after one year of her coming to power, has opened new opportunities for Bangladeshi businesses

Ahmede Hussain

The rise of China as an economic superpower has been quick and decisive. A country of 133 million people, it has developed large and medium-sized industries very fast over the last two decades. Armed with devaluated Yuan and backed by the steady hands of the Chinese Communist Party, the country flooded the European and US markets with cheap but quality consumer goods in the mid and late eighties. The so-called Chinese model has taught fellow developing nations a valuable lesson: economic emancipation is not far away; all one needs is good infrastructure and a healthy economic policy that will help businesses flourish.

The Prime Minister's five-day visit to our northern neighbour has been significant on many counts. China is Bangladesh's one of the most trusted strategic allies. Bangladesh Army buys some of its military hardware from China. There are other issues at work too. The military government of Myanmar is heavily dependent of China for diplomatic and military support, and as Bangladesh has the issue of maritime boundary demarcation pending with Myanmar, a Chinese intervention in favour of Bangladesh can give us an added advantage over Myanmar.

Even more significant is the economic issues. Bangladesh is literally sandwiched between two sleeping giants. India is shining and its economy has defied the morbid logic of the economists by quickly coming out of the worldwide economic slowdown. China, on the other hand, has led the world out of recession and in January 2010 its economy has surpassed its pre-recession peak. Even though Bangladesh is lying quietly between the two powerhouses of the world economy, the country is yet to reap any benefit from the unique geographical proximity it has with China and India.

Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed (C) and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attend a signing ceremony
in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. AFP PHOTO

The Awami League government has taken the right decision to reach out to India through taking some bold steps. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India has opened a windfall in new opportunities, which will help Bangladeshi business and industries. Likewise, her sojourn in China will surely help build some important bridges between two time-tested friends.

There are some bridges that will literally be built. Chinese financial and technical assistance has been crucial in building several important bridges over some mighty rivers that snake through this riverine delta. When bridges are built, businesses flourish and the bonds of friendship strengthen and ripen to give new fruits. The Chinese help to build the eighth Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge is a good sign, and the news of the construction of rail and road links between Chittagong and its sister city Kunming will surely help trade and commerce grow. Connectivity is integral to Bangladesh's dream of becoming a middle-income country and the Kunming initiative will be the cornerstone in that direction. China is also going to help Bangladesh build a new fertiliser factory, which will play an important role in achieving food autarky.

Sheikh Hasina's visit to China has taken the friendship between both the countries to a new height. Diplomacy in the new millennium is all about securing one's own economic interest. Bangladesh needs to tap the advantage of its geographical proximity with China, using which it can quickly industrialise its own economy. China has already decided to grant duty free access to certain Bangladeshi products. With its hunger for consumer goods, Chinese middle class will, in a way, be a driving force behind Bangladesh's export growth. It is also hoped that the visit will bring more investment from Beijing.

What is needed now is more people to people contact between two countries. There are some obstacles that Bangladeshi visitors face while going to China, of which one is the issuance of visa to journalists. Another problem is, even though China has waived this provision for a lot of countries such as India, a Bangladeshi visiting the country for the first time has to obtain Chinese visa from Dhaka; Chinese consulates across the globe do not issue visas for Bangladeshi first timers who want to go to China. One hopes that in a year's time these problems will evaporate as both the countries have entered into a new era of friendship.

From Xuán Zàng, the famous Chinese traveller who visited Bengal in the 600 AD, to the Chinese who migrated to Bangladesh during the Japanese occupation of China, history has always made a connection between these two friendly peoples. Like Bangladesh, China believes in non-violence and the Chinese have a history of loving and respecting their Bangladeshi brothers. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to China will be the first step towards a giant long march of friendship and economic cooperation.


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